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tv   Book Discussion on Machine Made  CSPAN  April 27, 2014 6:47am-8:01am EDT

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>> here's another view of tamny that you don't often aero. on july 4 1937 at the annual independence day commemoration, one of the machine's greatest members, senator robert wagner, had this to say about the machine's place in history. >> over 30 years ago, new york was -- [inaudible] in social welfare legislation. they forgot the lost souls tied
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day and night to the factory bench. but about that time a small group from tammany hall were elected to serve in albany. we remembered these lost souls and guided them to an earthly salvation. we passed law after law and made new york the shining mark for the world to emulate. tammany hall may justly claim the title of the cradle of modern liberalism in america. >> robert backer in, of course was one -- wagner, of course, was one of the rhyme sponsors of the social security -- prime sponsors of the social security act, making him the greatest legislator of the new deal era. so he knew many something about the birth of modern liberalism. so did another tamany figure, charles francis murphy was the leader the boss of tamny from 1902 to his death in 1924.
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and when he died, one of new york's best known political figures issued a moving tribute to him. >> in mr. murphy's death, the new york city democratic organization has lost probably the strongest and wisest leader it has had in generations. he was a genius who kept harm and at the same time recognized that the world moved on. it is well to remember that he has helped accomplish much in the way of progressive legislation and social well tear in our state -- welfare in our state. >> those are the words of franklin delano roosevelt. so if all of this is making your head spin, if somehow the world seems turned upside down, well, just grab hold of your chair or person next to you or just close your ears for the next hour or so. but just remember, management is not responsible for damage caused by exploding myths. [laughter]
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one that will remain intact tonight is the connection between tammany hall and the irish. although tammany existed long before the great waves of immigration, it became a conspicuously irish organization during its heydey. many of the politicians who dominated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were famine immigrants or the children of famine immigrants, a fact that has been hiding in plain sight for many decades. somehow the significance of this has escaped the convention alltelers of tammany tales who prefer to believe that the children of hunger sought to ease the hunger of others simply because it won them votes. but more about that later. the question of how and why the irish came to dominate tammany and other organizations has been the subject of endless academic speculation. pat moynihan once showed that
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tammany politics resembled life in an irish village. bachelor sons awaiting their inheritance, and there was great respect for hierarchy and authority. except, of course, when there wasn't. [laughter] i take the story back to a single election in ireland in 1926 when the great liberator daniel o'connell was riding high and ireland's catholics were organizing to demand full civil rights including the right to hold public office in the nation they dominated. until the 1820s, politics in ireland was a rigged game designed to keep a minority in power at the expense of the majority. in 1826 o'connell's organization the catholic association, challenged the status quo in an election for the house of common seat from county waterford. o'connell's deputy came up with a plan of campaign that would sound familiar to many a tammy
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hall healer in the years to come. he set down dozens of them into the county to persuade catholic voters to do the unthinkable, to vote against the chosen candidate of their landlords. now, votes were declared publicly back then so to vote against the landlord was either a brave or a foolish thing to do. his appeal made headway, but many of the poor catholic tenant farmers wanted something in return for their vote. as one voter put it -- >> patriotism may fill a man's heart, but it cannot fill the belly. >> others wrote to wife to write about -- white to write about jobs and even new places to live if their landlord evicted them in a fit of nastiness that would do new jersey proud. [laughter] a republican named john power told weiss about the problems he encountered when he opened his pub to the catholic association's election agents. >> my landlord threatens to throw me out of my house.
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i've been reduced to explain above ofty and left in a state of starvation and contempt by the opposition party. so i must humbly beg you to do something on my behalf and not have me and my family round forever. >> power signed the letter with his mark, an x after dictating it to an associate. these poor irish didn't have much but they had one change that made them as powerful as a rich man they had the vote. and they were willing to use the power of that vote to improve their condition. and who could blame them? if you're looking for the roots of tammany hall's irish sensibility, i can't think of a better place to start than that election in waterford in 1826. within 20 years of that election, of course, all was changed in ireland. the famine depopulated the island transforming not just ireland, but the american cities to which the survivors fled. the famine taught the irish a
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new lesson in political power. those who held power will prosper. and those without it may starve. the starving irish looked to the government for help only to find the scowling face of charles tremendous vel january the chief famine relief administrator, and charles wood, chancellor of the excheck kerr. both believed that the irish character was weak and flawed. too much government assistance, they warned would only lead to dependence. only the worthy were deserving of charity. as chancellor wood put it -- >> problem with the eye liberty is they're dependent on government. if we are to pay them and feed them we shall have the well population of ireland upon us soon enough. >> wood's colleague understood that terrible things were happening in ireland but whose fault was that? >> the great evil with which we
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have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine but the moral evil of the selfish perverse and turbulent character of the people. >> eventually, it was hoped ireland would learn an important lesson from starvation. >> the proper business of a government is to enable private individuals of every rank and profession in life to carry on their several occupations with freedom and safety. interfering as little as possible with the business of the land opener, merchant -- landowner, merchant, money lender or any function of life. >> with as they dispersed across the world, fam pin immigrants reached a very different conclusion about the proper business of goth. when they were sashing, the government told them that they lacked character. when government offered aid, it asked the poor to prove they were worthy of that aid. as survivors and their children built new be lives in new york
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and elsewhere with they made it clear through their votes and through their actions that they regarded those who provided jobs and help as their friends. and those who offered disdain and moral uplift as their enemies. when the famine survivors arrived if new york they found at least one voice willing to speak the truth about the catastrophe that was unfolding in ireland. bishop john hughes a native, was among the first to argue that starvation in ireland was not the result of famine but of heartless economic dogma. >> the political economy welcome found the irish people too poor to pay for the harvest of their own labor and leaving them to die of famine or to live on alps. and the same political economy authorizes the merchant to keep his doors locked and his sacks of corn tied up within, waiting
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for a better price. the rights of life are dearer and higher than those of property. and in a general famine like the present, there is no law of heaven nor of nature that permits a man to seize some bread wherever he can find it. >> a generation later they sew sew -- they showed the same respect for victorian economic dog that hughes did. it's impossible, i believe to understand irish-american politics, to understand tammy hall without -- tammany hall without acknowledging the famine. perhaps that silence the silence of shame and the silence of grief, speaks volumes. there's no question that a famine memory haunted irish-americans a century or more ago. it's hilling in plain sight. -- it's hiding in plain sight.
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lenore rah o'reilly once explained the difference between activists like herself and middle class leaders of the women's movement. >> this issue here is that others have never been face to face with hunger or eviction. >> charlie murphy whose family certainly did have that face-to-face encounter never summoned a famine member to, plain why tammy supported the welfare reforms, but then again perhaps it was understood. as tens of thousands of famine exiles crowded into the boarding houses and sellers of the five points and other neighborhoods many americans considered their cup under attack. -- their country under attack. a new political movement the know-nothings, recruited more than a million members in just a few months in 1854. they swept democrats and whigs out of office in cities up and down the east coast. one new york congressman, an up
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and comer from tammany hall, chose not to run for re-election. his name was bill tweed. his place as congressman from manhattan's east side was taken by thomas whitney who was the founder of the know-nothing movement. several popt manies after his election -- months after his election whitney denounced catholic immigrants on the floor of the house. >> most of the -- [inaudible] in this country are foreign born. they carry with them the anti-american influences prejudices and superstitions of their church. >> there was just one catholic congressman left in washington after the know-nothing assault of 1854. his name was john kelly, a tammany man and the son of irish immigrants. he rose in reply to whitney. >> the rights of no class can be assailed without enteenagerring the rights of all -- endangering the rights of all. the persecutor of today when
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intolerance has started on its disastrous course will inevitably become the victim of tomorrow. >> even as the nation was splitting aart over slavery parts of the north were bitterly divided over immigration, religion and the very meaning of what it meant to be an american. and in that battle, tammany hall was on the side of toleration and pluralism. a tapmany resolution passed during the height of the know-nothing movement made its position clear. >> can we declare that the greatness and glory of this republic have been materially advanced by the energy patriotism of a large parse of its -- portion of its citizens of foreign birth. >> this was a statement of principle at a time when large segments of the population believed that immigrants were the bane of the nation, a drain on the country's resources and an insult to american identity. yes, tammany had its reasons for welcoming immigrants. it saw the newcomers as
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potential voters and for some critics the shrewd calculation show that is the machine was unprincipled. but what was the alternative? without famm -- tammany immigrants would be left to the prejudices of people like charles whitney who believed only native-born citizens were worthy of citizenship. when bill tweed was caught with his hand and his other hand and his feet in the municipal cookie jar, reformers were astounded that his eye kish constituents -- irish constituents continued to support him. even after he was arrested on corruption charges in 1871. now, he certainly was corrupt. in fact, he made a full confession to the board of aldermen which is more than most gilded age criminals did. but he was also a friend of immigrants at a time when tweed's social betters insisted the irish could not be
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assimilated into anglo american democracy. as a state senator tweed and ta pany funded the growing catholic services network of medical facilities begun under the watch of john hughes before the civil war. many of these institutions were run by irish-born nuns who were opposed to the efforts of private charities who tried to break up families and send immigrant children out of the city and away from the priests, the nuns, the parishes and tammany. the annual report of the state board of charities in 1877 made the following assertions: >> most cases of -- [inaudible] are the result of idleness, improvidence drunkenness and malicious indulgence which are frequently if not universeally hereditary in character. the sooner families can be separated and broke been up, the better it will be for the children and for society at large. >> the irish immigrant nuns who
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dominated new york's catholic charities fought a quiet but passionate battle against this kind of thinking. tammany took the side of the nuns beating back efforts of groups which sought to stop funding state funding of religious charities. the head of that group, james king argued that catholic charities should not receive state funds for one simple reason: >> it is impossible to be a good catholic and a good citizen at the same time. >> tammany ooh,'s irish leaderers provided organizations with more than a million dollars in public funding per year in the late 19th century. people like the reverend king were appalled. now, of course tapmany ooh,'s critics were not entirely wrong when they complained that the catholic church was aligned with each other. tammany chose john kelley who defied the know-nothings in
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1854, to be its first catholic leader. and in 1880, the first irish catholic immigrant mayor was elected who fled the famine as a teenager and became a wealthy ship owner. in the days before his election, grace was summited to a campaign of -- subjected to a campaign of slander that might sound familiar. the new york tribune charged that grace was not a citizen of the united states. [laughter] now, the tribune did not say whether they believed grace was born in kenya -- [laughter] but the aper did argue that the would-be mayor surely could not have been a citizen. he was an immigrant, after all. but after the mayor produced the proper paperwork not every critic was styed. [laughter] "the new york times" was so frightened, it produced this piece of writing on the morning of the election. >> the choice is between an
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irish catholic and an american protestant with a long is and honorable record. >> for the times and many others, the choice was clear. but i the irish catholic won. and he won because tammany was better organized than its antagonists. john kelley imposed strict order over tammany's army of district leaders, precinct captains and all the other world holder -- ward holders. kelley's system certainly resembled the catholic hierarchy those infamous ward healers who knew their neighborhood and their neighbors. they knew who needed a job a favor or a friend. and they defended the poor when reformers tried to restrict voting privileges to the middle class and rich property owners in the late 19th century. one of those reformers andrew
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white -- the president of cornell university -- had this complaint about the ill effects of universal suffrage. >> in american cities a crowd of illiterate peasants freshly raked from irish bongs or bohemian mines may exercise virtual control. the vote of a single tenement house managed by a professional politician will neutralize the vote of an entire street of well-to-do citizens. >> tammany, of course would take that complaint as a compliment. [laughter] how do they do snit how do these peasants from the mines, from the robber nests, how do they exercise such power in is city of such conspicuous wealth and privilege? they did it through organization. they did it through tammany which is why reformers like dr. white and others so loathe the machine. it empowered those considered unworthy of power and indeed,
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unworthy of the vote. the president of yale university, dwight woolsey made it clear what he thought of tammany's voters. >> none who do not own property should not vote for representatives who lay taxes on property. the mass of city proletarians ought to be excluded from the polls. >> now tammany had a very different view of democracy. he encouraged people to vote. a lot. [laughter] sometimes more than once. [laughter] tammany boss richard croaker who succeeded kelley in 1886 so loved the democratic process that he voted not once, not twice, but 17 times in 1865. the heart of tammany's power was its core of district leaders, that is the individuals in each of the stice assembly districts who were responsible for getting
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out the vote and knowing the personal stories and problems of the thousands who lived in the district. those leaders in turn relied on lesser tammany operatives who were in charge of a single block, an election district or a telephonement house. one of -- tenement house. one of those districts was a woman who won second assembly district on the lower east side as the neighborhood was transforming to one of the great jewish communities in the world. barbara became a tammany district leader in the early 20th century and for those of you keeping score at home, yes, that means she was a district leader two decades before she had the right the vote. now, tapmany was not necessarily ahead of its time on the question of women's suffrage but barbara had no problem exerting her authority as the face of tapmany on or chard street which was the heart of her district. >> i am a practical politician. i've lived and worked on the
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lower east side since 1876, and i have used the tried and true tahmany -- tammany individuals, i can't make a speech but i get to the individual. >> and she did that in the most personal way possible. when she heard one of the peddlers on orchard street -- everybody called him onions pause that's what he sold -- when. >> she heard he was ill, she sent him to the southwest where the air was dry canner. on another occasion as she made her way through the pushcarts on the lower east side, a woman approached her with tears. she was a peddler, and she had set up shop on the wrong corner or at least that's what the police told her. the cops were right. the old woman was in the wrong place. so barbara did what any good leader would have done she gave the cops her orders. >> look the other way. [laughter]
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and so justice was done on the lower east side. [laughter] tammany had a way of getting under the skin of the city's elites many of whom cob described as anglo-sax son supremacists. the poor had only themselves to blame for their plight and that charity should be reserved for those considered worthy of assistance. the legendary tammany ticket leader, state senator and serial job holder george washington plunkett once explained he used his own money to help distressed families in his district. it was pointless, he said to direct families to private charities. many of them were obsessed with their own ideas of character and virtue, something they shared, of course, with the administrator of famine relief in ireland. >> private charities would investigate their case and decide if they were worthy of help about the time they are dead from starvation. >> tamma,any's boss was skeptical
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of the various private charities that looked for character flaws usually tied to religion or earth misthe city to explain why the poor were so poor. sullivan, who grew up in dire poverty in the five points retained vividded memories of going without shoes as a child. when he attained power and influence in new york he became a neighborhood legend for his charitable works including his annual giveaway when the poor lined up to receive free shoes. sullivan explained his views this way: >> never ask a hungry man about his past. i feed him not because he's good, but because he needs to do. >> tammany figures also challenged american expansion overseas at the turn of the 20th century. progressives like the sainted teddy roosevelt believed in spreading anglo-saxon civilization to places like hawaii, the philippines, cuba
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and central america. tammany boss richard croaker was among the most vocal opponents of america's imperialist designs. croaker retained a very irish and a very old-fashioned american view of imperialism. he once told reporters why he opposed overseas adventures. >> let me explain what i mean by anti-imperialism. it means opposition to the fashion of shooting down everybody who doesn't speak english. [laughter] it seems to be the fashion nowadays when a people don't speak english to organize ap army and send troops to shoot them down. >> croaker was criticized as numb skull for those views. years later when the same civic elites joined with cultural conservatives in an effort to restrict immigration tammany congressman william cochran bitterly opposed this
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neo-nativist maneuver directed not so much at the irish, but at southern europeans and jews. in 1922 as congress was considering legislation cochran told the hebrew aid society -- >> it is an abandonment of the policy which has made the country the greatest agency for civilization in the history of mankind. it appeals to that peculiar but sinister spirit of haut and distrust that -- hate and distrust that seems to be sweeping over the world. personally, i deem it much more important that a man should be able to work effectively even though he cannot speak our language thanfluent in several languages but inefficient in industry. >> tammany lost that battle but by 1924, it had tallied up some of the most remarkable victories in new york's history, and it all ban in 1902 when a longtime district leader charles murphy
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became leader. he and his siblings were brought up in the old gashouse district of manhattan. more by was quiet and reserved, they called him silent charlie. he was also not i didn't denseally -- coincidentally a shrewd politician. in 1911 he promoted two young men, al smith and robert wagner to leadership positions in the state assembly and senate respectively. he would go on to mentor other young politicians including jeremiah mahoney, an olympic athlete, a lawyer and a judge. mahoney gained fame later on in his life when he led a failed boycott of the 1936 olympic games in germany to protest hitler's treatment of the jews. during murphy's long tenure as boss tammany took the lead in challenging the very economic dogma that allowed a million irish people to starve to death
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during the famine. tammany's al smith and robert wagner led a sweeping investigation of working conditions after the terrible triangle shirtwaist fire in the village in 1911. as a result of their work, tammany passed dozens of new laws that put into place the beginnings of the modern social safety net. the owners of buildings and factories could no longer manage their property as they saw fit. government had a right to decide on the proper length of a workweek or how much a laborer in the canal system should earn in a day. society had an obligation to help workers injured on the job. families with to where to turn -- no where to turn should not be denied assistance regardless of their culture their beliefs or their worthiness. critics were astonished. a new years later al smith
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explained there were now two distinct groups in new york politics now. >> one group believes that the constitution and statute laws intended only for the protection of property and money. the other group believes that a law in a democracy is not a divine principle but exists for the greatest good to the greatest number and for meeting the needed of present day society -- the needs of present day society. that is the theory i hold. >> it's a theory that made him very popular with the immigrants and children of immigrants who came to see tammany as their ally. but there was another political figure in new york who found smith's theory attractive. franklin roosevelt had entered politics in 1910 as an avowed enemy of tammany hall. he said that charles francis more by was a noxious weed that needed to be plucked out. but by the 1920s he had changed his mind. some might argue this was a simple calculation on roosevelt's part. he was ambitious and tammany
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had the power to further his ambitions. but consider this: maybe, just maybe, franklin roosevelt came to see that tammany was on the right side of history, on the right side of toleration, on the right side of reform and on the right side of religious and ethnic diversity. imagine that. roosevelt made his peace with charlie murphy that knox white house weed and make one of al smith's most enthusiastic supporters, and tammany offered roosevelt a way to remain active in politics after he contracted polio in 1921 and was no longer considered a viable political figure. truth be told, al smith did not always appreciate fdr's assistance. in fact, at one point smith's campaign manager had to explain to smith why roosevelt's support was important. >> you're a bowery mix, he's a patrician. and he'll take some of the curse
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off you. [laughter] >> franklin roosevelt nominated al smith for president in 1924 when tammany hall took on the ku klux klan at the democratic national convention in madison square garden. the can klan was one of the largest caucuses at that convention. smith didn't win the nomination that year, but franklin roosevelt had big plans for tammany ooh,'s favorite son. not long afterwards, roosevelt wrote this letter to smith who was telling people that he would not run for president in 1928. >> i know perfectly well that you, as you read the this letter, say to yourself quite honestly that you are not a candidate for 1928. nevertheless, you will be a candidate in 1928 whether you like it or not. and i want to see you as strong a candidate as it is honestly possible to make you when the
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convention meets. >> tammany's al smith was a candidate in 1928. this son of the lower east side and proud member of tammany hall became the first catholic, the first nonprotestant to win a major party presidential nomination only to lose, of course, in a landslide to herbert hoover. but in that year's election cities that often voted republican flipped and voted democratic, often for the first time in years be not decades. in 1932 when franklin roosevelt won the white house, he built on the support that al smith inspired from urban areas in the north and the midwest. one political scientist noted before there was a roosevelt revolution, there was an al smith revolution. and the man who turned the roosevelt revolution into landmark legislation was another ta measuring many man, senator robert wagner. wagner was among the chief sponsors of the social security act and single-handedly won
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passage of the# national labor relations act which roosevelt was not so keen on. and that, of course, made it easier for unions to organize. he also authored legislation creating the first federal housing program. and even as he gained fame as one of the nation's greatest legislators, robert wagner remained true to his tammany roots. he once explained his political philosophy this way: >> my boyhood was a pretty rough passage. some people believe that no matter how many handicaps you have if you just have it within you, you can just rise to the top. that's bunk. for everyone that rises to the top, a thousand are destroyed. >> for all its many flaws tammany hall figures like al smith, jeremiah mahoney, robert wagner and others never lost sight of those who through no fault of their own did not ask could not rise to the top. tammany boss richard croaker noted that critics complained that tammany used gutter
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tactics. croaker did not disagree. >> it is because there are men in the gutter, and you have to go down where they are if you're going to do anything with them. >> by the late 1930s, it was becoming clear that tammany's mission had succeeded. the social welfare system it implemented in new york was now incorporated in the new deal. the children and the grandchildren of the lower east side were winning that battle for inclusion and cultural respect. through the efforts of people like smith and wagner and with the assistance of courageous allies like frances perkins, the nation put aside the economic dogma of the victorian era. government could and would intercede to soften the blows of a callous marketplace. that was and remains one of tammany's greatest legacies. tammany's receded from power as the city changed after world war ii, it's commonly known. finally in the early 1960s it died a painful death at the hands of some brilliant young
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reformers including ed koch, william fits ryan andman fred ornstein. but there were still some who remembered the glory days. on a mid winter evening in early 1973. 20 members of the an wan da club drumminged up two flights -- trudged up two flights of stairs to spend one last night in the political clubhouse. some came with extra cash because the club was auctioning off its last few possessions with the proceeds to be split up among the remaining members. the old men in the crowd spoke of other days when the club sponsored an annual beefsteak dinner and local politicians stopped by to shake hands and chew the political fat. it was a different neighborhood now -- better in many ways. the old gashouse district had given ways to dozens of low-rise brick apartment buildings put up in the 1940s to house world war ii veterans and their
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families. they were decent people, hard working and ambitious. but they didn't have the same connections to the neighborhood, the old men complained. the schoolteacher with a two-bed-room apartment, they didn't know about the old days. they saw no reason to come out on cold nights to talk politics in a second -- [inaudible] above a gin mill. one of the few younger people in the crowd walked away with the club's poker chips for $2. an old-timer won a small bidding war for the club's grandfather clock. a minor city official paid $200, the largest amount bid for any object, for the right toss a six-foot portrait of charlie murphy. a visitor asked one of the old-timers why the club decided to close down. >> ah, what do you think? change now. the old ways are gone. people nowadays don't sit on their front stoop and talk politics. they don't even know the name of
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their district leader. it's time to move on. >> as the auction ran out of steam, the old-timers cast sideways glances. when an eager young man linked down $10 and said -- [inaudible] then he put down $5 and said he wanted the club's big safe, the old safe. many realized his problem, there was no way he was of getting that pool table and that safe down those stairs. not by himself. the old ones knew what would happen next. he'd ask for help. and he'd get it. no questions asked. ♪ ♪ [applause]
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>> i want to thank my district leaders. [laughter] [applause] >> well it's question time. and by the way, for those -- first of all, for the or historians in the audience, that would not include peter quinn because he makes up everything -- [laughter] everything you just read -- heard from these brilliant actors was a quote a real quote. and i have to footnote this. i will tell you that the long soliloquy by frances perkins i did fiddle with just a little bit for the record and the last quote about the politics on the stoop was actually a combination of quote, okay? so if you're going to criticize, if you're going to ask a question about my sources it's on the record. but everything else including
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some of those amazingly nasty quotes were actually taken from original sources and appear in my book. should you wish to check by book. [laughter] so i'm happy to take any questions. now that the house lights are up, i can see you, and there is an audience there. i would have been so nervous if i knew you were out there. yes. >> shall we use the microphone? >> sure. >> thank you very much. this was really wonderful. >> thank you. >> thank you. i wanted to ask you i'm sure it's somewhere in the book about the relationship of tammany to the new york draft riots and the general relationship of the machine to african-americans in new york. >> well, the question of the draft riots is interesting, of course, because in some ways, of course, draft riots was not, were not a function of tammany
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hall per se. but tahmany did get involved this that horrific event -- in that horrific event when it was becoming clear after the riots were ended after five days when the draft was suspended. and, of course we all know the inherent tearness of the draft, right -- fairness of the draft, right? people like teddy roosevelt's father could put up $300 get a substitute, and you were out of the draft. for these irish people, children of famine immigrants themselves they couldn't get out with $300. so when the draft was suspended lincoln made it clear to new york this is only a suspension. you have to figure out how to make this draft work. and you have about a month to do it. so samuel tilden who was a big shot lawyer, made his money by
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collecting fees and, therefore of course, never took a bribe, samuel tilden had this brilliant idea to sue the federal government for imposing an unconstitutional draft. now, boss tweed basically took tilden aside and said sam, do you know what justice scalia's going to say about this? [laughter] i have a better idea. and what tammany hall did and the city government did at tammany's suggest is they took out a bond issue so that they could pay the $300 for any poor man who wanted out of the draft. now, was it neat and simple and principled? no, but you know what? when the draft started begun in a month -- again in a month, there were no riots. there was no uprising. in terms of tammany's relations with african-americans tammany's boss richard croaker was an honorary member of
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tammany's african-american component which was called the united democracy. and croaker was the only white member of it. so tammany was not about healing race legses. ta -- relations. tammany was about reorganizing the lives of these poor irish immigrants. now, it would be great to say they were ahead of their time or progressive, but here's the deal, democrats in the south were taking the vote away from black people. tamman yucks was encouraging black people to vote. i think that makes a big difference. yes. right in front here. >> thank you. this was very entering and very inform -- interesting and very informative. >> thank you. >> i had been under the misimpression that tammany rose with the irish, and what you're suggesting was that tammany already existed when the irish
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came. >> that's right. >> so how did it really begin? >> well, the last time that question was asked, i had somebody on the panel who started with the founding of the pennsylvania colony. i'm not going to take it back that far. [laughter] but as an organization it was founded in 1790 as a social club, you know? the guys would go out they'd pound down a few we'res, watch -- beer withs, watch the giants and talk politics. and one thing led to another and they became involved in politics because the politicians in new york including aaron burr, realized if you can get a bunch of guys together maybe you can get them to vote. so tammany sort of morphed to a political organization to, and you're right it certainly was in place when the famine irish arrived. it was not the power that it became until the irish harnessed that power and turned it into the organization that, you know we know today. >> many thank you. >> sure.
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right here. >> hi, thanks. two questions, actually, if i may. one was if you could elaborate on what gave the know-nothings that huge political push that they had in the year that you mentioned, 54 i think. and also the relationship between the new york city police department and fire department and tamma, this y and the irish immigrants. there seemed to be a lot of stuff there. >> yes, there is. the answer to your first question is very simple. i mean it's not a coincidence that the though-nothing movement arises seemingly out of nowhere as the famine immigrants are coming in, right? the tail end of the famine is in the early 1850s and by 1854 you have this native ofist movement. i mean connect the dots. that's not too hard, right? in terms of the relations with tampany with the police, yes certainly had its hooks in the police department. that was one of the things murphy changed when he took over in 1902, and a lot of police corruption certainly was rooted in tammany.
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some of the corruption came out of looking the other way, for example, when stupid laws like the closing of saloons on sunday was enforced by blue noses like teddy roosevelt, right? so when you have a law that deprives the working person of a drink on his only day off and tahmany says, you know we're not necessarily going to enforce that law the police will collect their fee for looking the ore way and, you know -- the other way and, you know, you have this corruption. believe me the corruption was more complex than just that. the fire department, as near as i can tell, i don't know a great deal about history of the fire fire -- misdepartment, but the fire department i know. it's not as though you had to be a tammany member to get a job in the fire department. but certainly during the volunteer days before 1865 if you were a volunteer firefighter, chances are you were a member of tammany.
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croaker was also a volunteer firefighter. once the professional department was put in place in 1865 by the 1880s two irish imgrams -- one guy named bonner and the other guy's name escapes me, it's terrible -- but these two irish immigrants who lived in the fife points rose to become chiefs with the fire department, and they put many place civil service tests basically, for the or fire department. and so there was no getting around it. when one of the great reformers seth lowe, was elected mayor in 1901 on an anti-tammany ticket, the first thing he did was he fired the fire chief, ed croaker, who was richard croaker's nephewment. [laughter] charging that croaker, obviously, had gotten his job through connections when, in fact he hadn't. and croaker to this day edward croaker's one of the great heroes of the fire department of new york. so, you know, it goes to show you that, you know, this sort of bias and bigotry went both ways.
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yeah. question right here. >> w.r. grace -- >> yes. >> he ran with tammany hall for his first election if i'm not mistaken. >> with yes. >> the second time he was elected, he did not. >> that's correct. >> what happened? >> well, i mean, the story is these people had this terrible habit of not writing things down, you know? kelley and grace, kelley was the boss, kelley and grace came to a bit of, had a bit of a battle presumably over patronage. now, the story that i've read is that grace, like some other people who were elected with tammany support like woodrow wilson when he was elect with the the support of new jersey's machine as governor of new jersey in 1910, takes the oath of office, and the first thing he says is, you know you guys, thanks for your support but don't come to me for any help because i'm now -- and grace
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basically told kelley don't come to me with a list of job seekers because, you know, i'm the mayor now. so i think that kelley thought that grace was ungrateful as charlie murphy would later accuse william sulzer, governor of new jersey elected in 1912, immediately says i'm my own man. i'm not going to appoint tahmany people. he was impeached. [laughter] the only governor of new york who was ever impeached. so grace frankly, grace was never a good fit for tammany. he was one of the richest people in new york. when he ran for mayor again in 1834 he ran basically as the candidate of the county democracy which was kind of the rich man's democratic party. and he won despite tammany's opposition. this is getting easy. it's right here. okay. if i'm ignoring you in the back, i'm sorry. >> yeah terence. i was just -- >> have you known me that a
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long brian? [laughter] >> i've known you too long, frankly. >> it's true. >> i'd like your perspective on two mayoral -- [inaudible] that while tammany still existed. >> well, those were two -- by the way, can i borrow your voice? [laughter] just for a few more minutes. john mitchell was the grandson of the great irish patriot, john mitchell. but he was not your al smith character. i mean, he went to fordham, so what does that tell you right? [laughter] but he was an accomplished lawyer, he was a reformer, he was elected mayor in 1913 as voters were, frankly, repulsed by the impeachment of the
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governor. so he was elected and promisely as i say in -- promptly as i say this my book, engaged in first class efficiency and third class politics. and, you know, he sort of held himself above with his fellow irish catholics. and, you know, sort of -- there was, it's too long to get into but in essence, you know, he cracked down op some catholic institutions, schools, he was involved in a school controversy so that by 1917 he was probably the unpopular figure in new york. and subsequently lost his re-election bid to tammany in 1917 and then was killed joined the air corps and -- this almost sounds like a joke but it's not. he was taking, he was going on a training mission and actually fell out of his plane. some people actually think it was suicide. but anyway, so mitchell sort of disappeared from city history after that. laguardia was a different story. laguardia was a reformer's dream come true.
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he spoke yiddish, he spoke italian, he looked like lou costello, you know? he looked like a guy up from city streets. there was nothing snooty about him. and robert moses once said that he could, he could speak to people's grievances in five different languages. you know? so tammany had no playbook for this, you know? now, laguardia was elected with a minority vote, as in less than 50% in 19be 33 because -- 1933 because the democrats were split. and, of course, he subsequently is elected this 1937. but tammany never figured out laguardia, and there were many things that caused the death of tammany, not least of which its success. but certainly laguardia's loathing of tammany was one of them. but in 1938 when the laguardia administration was caught up in a police scandal, the the sort of thing that tammany was known
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for, laguardia said gee, i need a special prosecutor. i need somebody. so he called on the district, tammany district leader of the 36th district who had run against him in 1937. so you had a tammany district leader investigating the police for a former administration. new york city history is very complicated. [laughter] [applause] >> if i could just ask one quick question. what role did -- [inaudible] the restaurant play in tammany hall? >> well, they ate and drank there a lot, i can tell you that. tammany until 1929, tammany was on 14th street. so i couldn't tell you who went to that restaurant and who didn't but, you know i wish i did. but certainly, you know, it would have been a hangout at that time, yeah.
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>> say a little about smith turning against roosevelt -- [inaudible] 932? >> sure. peter asked the typically brilliant question about smith breaking with roosevelt. 1932 al smith if pelt that he had taken -- felt that he had taken one for the team in 1928 and everybody knew a democrat was going to win. franklin roosevelt had declared his candidacy after frankly three not necessarily spectacular years as governor of new york. i mean he would have been the first to say that he simply built on what al smith had handed him in 1928. so roosevelt declared early and often smith in february of 1932 declares, and i think he felt by rights that he was entitled to it. roosevelt would have none of it. roosevelt employed ed flynn who
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was the leader of the bronx and charlie murphy's protege just as smith was. and flynn and jim farley two irish-american politicians, basically ran roosevelt's campaign. roosevelt won the nomination in chicago in 1932, and smith was so upset with that that he actually left the convention which was really not good form. but thereafter tammany and smith were pretty much bitterly opposed to roosevelt. some of it was still bitterness over the fact that roosevelt seemingly had put pressure on jimmy walker to resign as mayor in 1931 and felt that, you know that that had been unfair, 1932 rather that that had been unfair. but there is sadly in this history of tammany and this he'sly of al smith this period where the president of the united states, a new yorker, is
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doing all the things that tammany seems to stand for and yet they were on the outside looking in. and i kind of see smith as a tragic figure there. i think a lot of it was personal. i just find it hard to believe that al smith really felt in his bones that what franklin roosevelt was doing was so wrong. but, you know, politics is personal. and i think that had a lot to do with it. does that answer your question, peter? >> yes. >> thank god. [laughter] because, you know, that's a test. yes, billy. oh. >> but i wanted to know what your take was at 1928 when roosevelt won smith's seat and smith went down to such a crashing defeat. what's your take on your research on their relationship at that time during 1929? >> well that's a good question, billy. i mean, the the conventional wisdom is that the relationship between smith and roosevelt begins to deteriorate as soon as
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roosevelt takes over as governor. he did not appoint two of smith's top people, moskowitz and robert moses. and if you're, if you've been in politics like peter quinn has the way you can understand that you're taking over from the this legend. are you going to appoint moskowitz who was smith's guy or person as your person? not really. and roosevelt just didn't like robert moses. so smith certainly did not appreciate that. but the letters i've seen in hyde park because unlike novel ists historians have to do research -- [laughter] the letters to me indicate a level of friendship and even affection in those years between 1928 and 1932. in fact, at one point roosevelt writes to smith who's on
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vacation in florida and says your granddaughter was up here at the mansion playing with my granddaughter. in fact, your granddaughter -- i think her name was mary -- mary is now calling me ganpa. so i cut you out, you know? so it's this sort of affectionate relationship. and, you know, i think roosevelt really did have a well of respect and real affection for smith, and i think there were times when smith did not return it in the way that i would have liked to have seen. another question? >> yeah. a lot of historians kind of feel that -- or some historians feel that boss tweed gets kind of a bad rap in that he was a great visionary for this city city. and a lot of the corruption was just part of doing business and building a modern city really the beginning of the modern new york. do you agree or disagree with that? >> i think that boss tweed's
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legacy is a lot more complicated than the thomas nash cartoons would lead us to believe. i mean, a lot of the reason that tweed was involved in bribery and corruption was to get upstate lawmakers who had their hands out to pass bills that were favorable to the city. and, you know, so it was -- boss tweed was a forget of his time -- a figure of his time. but when you think of all of the villains of the gilded age, boss tweed's the only one that goes to prison and dies in jail. so i think that -- and other historians like kenneth ackerman and leo -- [inaudible] have done a nice job of complicating that picture in a way that you describe. they're the tweed experts, not me, but i agree that tweed was a much more complex figure than history tells us. >> [inaudible] >> did you? lucky you. i wish i had.
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yes, in the front. >> hi. [inaudible conversations] >> just one second, please. >> thank you. you talked about this woman who was a district leader 20 years before she was allowed to vote. so how common was female leadership in tammany hall and what specifically did tammany hall do to help women with suffrage? >> well tammany was -- first of all, i have no idea how barbara porges got to the place where she was so early. charlie murphy and al smith, al smith in particular was opposed to women's suffrage at first. but the women's suffrage movement passed in new york in 1917 i believe. might have been 1918. only when tammany decided, you know what? i mean, there are some calculations, i think tammany
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realized where history was going. it had failed before if new york. the reformers tried to get it through and couldn't. when tammany changed under murphy, it passed, and almost immediately women are appointed as co-district leaders with men. certainly in the 920s you're seeing stories in the new york press, the women of tammany hall. now, a lot of them are wives of tammany officials. but nevertheless, they certainly were integrated. i certainly wouldn't say they were advanced on the issues of women rights but they were there. and women got the right to vote in new york ahead of every other state except for michigan. so new york was the second state in the union to pass a women's right to vote, and they did it under tammany. so let's give the boys a little bit of credit. [applause] [laughter]
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i may be running out of answers if not vocal cord, but -- uh-oh. this is counselor hartnet. >> i was struck by the parallels, some of the quotes, the anti-irish quotes and things that could be said today. is there a parallel to tammany in any way today, and if not why? ..


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